Tuesday, October 28, 2008

They Can't See the Page: More Basic Reasons Poor Kids Struggle to Learn

One in twenty students has trouble focusing well enough to read without trouble. How are kids supposed to learn if they can't see the page?

This isn't new information. We've known about the "vision problem" for years.

In fact, not surprisingly, for poor children this problem, is much worse.

Research indicates that:
50% of low-income kids have untreated vision problems
In some underserved areas, the number of children who fall through the cracks is staggering. Optometrists volunteering through the Lions Club found that 47 percent of children had vision problems in schools in West Los Angeles.
And you can't catch these problems with the cursory exams usually done in schools:
Many lay people confuse a vision screening with a vision exam, although the former is but a procedure that's supposed to identify those children who may need further examination. However, the screenings many schools administer even fall short of that. Vision screenings that test only acuity detect 30 percent of children who would fail a professional exam
In fact, cursory exams may actually exacerbate the problem, indicating that a child can see fine and reducing the chance that she will get a comprehensive exam. In other words, poor exams may actually ensure that the problem is never corrected.

How much of the challenge that poor kids face in learning results from incredibly basic causes that have nothing to do with pedaogy (or even with more subtle issues like cultural mismatch, etc.).

How about the relationship between vision and "delinquent" kids?

A key finding was that almost all of the 132 delinquents in the study had learning related vision problems, but only a few had nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. Common in teens, these refractive problems are a sign that the person has made adaptations to deal with the stress of close work in the classroom. . . .

The lack of such problems in these delinquents indicates that, at any early age, they chose not to deal with close work, Dr. Harris said. Other study findings show the reason why. They simply lacked the vision skills to do close work.
How much of the achievement gap could be eliminated with comprehensive health care, breakfast, and nutrition?

What an incredible tragedy. Even on these most basic levels we find it impossible to support these children.


Anonymous said...

Call me jaded, but it seems like another example of the systemic disinterest by a system that admits to itself that it is warehousing under the guise of education. My spouse it always laughing at the public health system in north america (vs Japan) particularly in the schools. And if children are already being punished in schools by standardized testing and a funding structure that penalizes the poor, the vision and auditory issues are another drop in a full bucket.

Anonymous said...


When most people think of what may put a student "at-risk", poor vision probably does not immediately come to mind. But sadly, your post doesn't really suprise me when you consider the multitude of problems that exist in our public schools. I will say the one thing that was really eye-opening to me was the connection between poor vision and delinquency.

Anonymous said...

I would like to comment on the end of your post... You end by saying "Even on these most basic levels WE (emphasis mine) find it impossible to support these children"

I think you fail to lay the blame initially on the parents that brought these children into the world...leaving their responsibility out of the equation is wrong. Sure the problems are cyclical... society failed the parents therefore they fail their kids and then society fails to pick up the slack once again...

Leaving off the parent's and extended family's responsibilities ignores the cyclical, compounding nature of these problems... it also in the most basic sense lets them off the hook.

Anonymous said...

You make a good point, Aaron, about the usefulness of visual screening and correction in schools. Schools used to provide these services. What do you suggest teachers do so that schools provide at least visual screening today? I think I'm correct by suggesting that teachers can use a Snellen visual acuity screening chart legally in our classrooms today, and suggest that parents follow-up with an appropriate clinic or doctor.

Unknown said...

Its really a noticeable thing that while considering eduction we fail to point the poor children. But it should be changed.Since most of the time we are not caring them.Suggestions are really appreciable.


Aaron Schutz said...

I never responded to Bob Heiny's post above.

Bob, as I understand it the Snellen screening is actually a key part of the problem. It only tests for distance vision, and most of the problems these studies are pointing at are not distance vision issues.

So when a kid passes the Snellen screening, parents are told "the kid can see fine" and that means vision issues are ruled out. And this almost ensures, for poor kids, that other vision problems won't ever be dealt with. And it's the other vision problems, problems with close-in vision, that cause basic reading difficulties.

At least that's what I understand. I'm not an optometrist.

FYI Snellen on Wikipedia (I had to look it up): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snellen_chart

Anonymous said...

it's yet difficult to understand specific students...

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Anonymous said...

Its very strange thing, the poor childrens are not getting proper education in most places and even is they are physically challenged, thats it. The education for them is over. Need Change.

Anonymous said...

Concentration over kids education must always be kept in first priorities because they the future.

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